LOS ANGELES (CN) — Officials with the city of Los Angeles officials announced a deal Friday with the plaintiffs in the LA Alliance lawsuit, which sought to force the city and the county to build more housing to alleviate its homelessness crisis.
"We’ve sealed our commitment to find solutions for our unhoused neighbors, and to hold ourselves accountable," Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a press conference in City Council chambers.
Under the settlement, which still needs to be approved by a full City Council vote and then by a federal judge, the city will build between 14,000 and 16,000 units of housing — either temporary shelter units or permanent housing — at some point in the next five years, at a cost of between $2.4 billion and $3 billion. That would be enough, according to both sides, to house 60% of the city's homeless who are currently unhoused and not experiencing drug addiction or a serious mental illness.
That population of unhoused people, according to the city, are the responsibility of Los Angeles County.
There are more than 40,000 homeless living in the city of Los Angeles, and more than 65,000 in the county. It is generally estimated that between 20 and 30% of homeless sufferer from addiction or mental illness, though some argue that the number is far higher.
The city and the county each have their own government with their own sets of elected officials. Historically, the city has taken the lead in constructing buildings, while the county, which has a steady stream of revenue from the state and federal government, has typically taken responsibility for providing social services to those in need.
The two entities are often at odds. But more often than not, those disagreements have been voiced behind closed doors, or at least subtly. But on Friday, city officials spoke openly and with clear rancor about their frustrations with the county, which has a budget of nearly $40 billion budget that dwarfs the city's.
"The county is the one with a $3 billion mental health department. The county needs to step up and do their part. Enough of delay tactics and enough of saving face," City Council President Nury Martinez said at the press conference. "They’re not looking for solutions. They’re looking to protect themselves."
The county was also named as a defendant in the alliance's lawsuit, and has not not reached a settlement. Last week, the county's lawyer filed a motion to end negotiations, signaling its willingness to take the case to trial. The county also requested a new judge in the case, suggesting the "impartiality" of U.S. District Judge David Carter can be "reasonably questioned." The Bill Clinton appointee quickly denied that request.
If Martinez's words for the county were barbed, so was the response from LA County lawyer Skip Miller, who reacted to the agreement in a written statement: "This lawsuit has no merit with regard to the county. It is between the plaintiffs and the city, and we’re glad they settled. We intend to litigate and win this case. The county is more than doing its job and doing everything possible to address homelessness without stigmatizing it as a crime. Any assertion that the county has failed on this obligation is utterly baseless."
At the press conference, LA Alliance attorney Elizabeth Mitchell lashed back at the county.
"The county has acknowledged its obligations, acknowledged its failures, has billions of dollars for this specific purpose, but has refused to participate in this agreement because it says it's doing enough," she said. "The audacity of the county to say they’re doing enough when the streets clearly show otherwise is offensive."